Shirley Williams, executive director of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project, is preparing her organization to face a 31 percent funding reduction in 2012 after Congress recently voted to reduce funding to legal-aid programs.
The MVLP is a joint project of the Mississippi Bar Association, the Mississippi Center for Legal Services and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. It assists low-income Mississipians whose legal needs the other organizations cannot meet on their own. MVLP's matches clients with private lawyers willing to provide legal representation pro bono--professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment or at a reduced fee as a public service. MVLP's lawyers handle civil matters including guardianships, adoptions and child support, among others.
"Without a doubt, the federal funding cuts have forced us to examine every aspect of our operations," Williams said in a statement. "We are very concerned about the number of Mississippians who will not have their legal issues addressed because we cannot help them. Since we are a statewide organization, the impact will be far-reaching."
In response to the cuts, Williams stated that a number of changes will be made to the organization's operations in 2012. Among the measures MVLP will take is reducing the number of custody files handled, reducing the number of clients assisted who are not referred from legal services, reducing the number of statewide legal clinics and other programmatic offerings and reducing the amount of financial assistance currently provided to clients who cannot afford filing or other fees for matters involving children, including guardianships and adoptions. MVLP will also reduce the number of days and hours during which its Legal Line will be open. Williams fears that will harm the legal options of many low-income Mississippians.
"Legal Line callers are referred to the hotline from various state agencies, non-profit organizations and attorneys, among other sources," Williams said in a statement. "Without a place to refer low-income individuals with legal matters, it is difficult to know where a good number of Mississippians will find legal help."
Despite the cuts the oranization has to make, Williams stated that MVLP will continue to do everything it can to represent low-income Mississippians.
"We will do everything we can to continue to ensure access to justice to all Mississippians. It's just going to be harder to do it going forward."